There can surely be no arguemtent that Building Information Modelling is a good thing for the construction industry and anyone that uses buildings, and while hindsight is a wonderful thing, the ‘why aren’t we doing this already’ comment is a common one.
Whether it is the advantages of a well thought out and validated design, the control on programming or the FM advantages, the benefits to everyone involved in the process are clear to see. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch and there is a cost associated with implementing BIM on a project. Arguably more so now than in say 5 years’ time, as there is the set-up and changeover cost that will ultimately make the annual cost higher this year than once a company is fully set up for BIM.
The Burning BIM Question
The burning question for our business (an aluminium façade systems manufacturer) is how can we justify the cost of BIM and ultimately how can we use it to help us make a profit?
Without wanting to sound too mercenary, we are in the same boat as most businesses and that is the boat where making a profit stops you sinking.
So as I sit and extoll the virtues of BIM and having the relevant objects and capabilities to my senior managers and members of the board, I try and keep in mind how we financially justify BIM development. It is somewhat challenging to be able to give a definitive route to profit because in our business we are used to developing products that have a physical property that can bring financial gain.
If you take a window system that we are introducing early next year as an example, we know how it performs against our competition (better), we know how much it costs and what profit we need to make, and we know the potential market (huge) and can estimate how much of the market we can secure.
This allows us to forecast our return on investment which is much more difficult to do with BIM because of the following reasons:-
- The size of the market is not clear and neither is what uptake there will be across the industry
- We are not quite sure what the costs will be, will each project need bespoke objects creating and how many formats do we need to create our objects in for starters
- There isn’t a market of unexploited new opportunities in BIM; they are existing opportunities that need to be done with BIM
This last point, as well as being a problem for the bean counters, is for me the whole reason that as a business we need to push forward and develop our expertise as much as possible. My prediction (as uninformed and naïve as it may be) is that within a matter of years those who don’t get BIM or are unwilling to give it their full attention will be left behind.
In fact, there won’t be BIM; digital prototyping, virtual validation and complete data sets for an entire buildings components will be the norm. I’m not daft enough to think that those companies that have understood the opportunity and given it their full attention will be left with work coming out of their ears and be able to name their price. I do however think that in any market there is room for different levels of expertise and quality and our attitude to BIM should be the same as our attitude to product development and service. Aim to be in the top 10% and give yourself every opportunity to secure profitable work this financial year and the next.
So as a manufacturer, we need to make these financial commitments now to reap the benefits in the future. However, there are things that other parts of the industry and dare I say it the government could do. I’m not asking for hand-outs or to be given an unfair advantage, but looking at the bigger picture, BIM needs collaboration from all and if the financial barriers are too great we will end up with a less than perfect model.
Some things that I think would help are as follows (and not exclusively helpful for BIM implementation):-
- Financial government incentive for companies willing to commit and demonstrate they are using BIM with sustainable and eco-friendly design
- Training provided by an impartial third party (possibly government led) to help clarify what the requirements are for getting involved with BIM and a best practice guide to entering the market
- Benchmark of what being BIM capable means so pretty 3-D objects alone do not a BIM compliant company make
- Tangible commitments from clients/main contractors that being BIM able will add weight to a specification, all other things being equal
- Working groups for manufacturers to help share knowledge and influence the route we take on our journey, this really needs to be led by the manufacturers
Now this may not have been the most exciting blog piece ever written, maybe not even in the top 10 but I do feel it is an important issue and one that if it isn’t dealt with could delay the uptake of BIM, certainly in the short term.
As always my views are limited to one particular area of the industry and in the spirit of collaboration I would welcome comments and criticisms to continue the discussion on this topic.